The site of the church is at the junction of two ancient roads of the Roman period and as the manor was Saxon prior to 1066, it is possible that there was an early church here of wood before the stone built one. The earliest item in the church is the base of the Norman font but the earliest architecture of the church is from the late 13th century in the lowest parts of the tower and the porch with its lancet windows. The earliest recorded Rector, John de Kemeseye, is listed on the Rectors' name board. He was presented to the church in 1280 by Sir Henry de Dene, then Lord of the Manor.
In the first half of the 14th century, Mitcheldean prospered as it had become a market town and most of the church was rebuilt with the nave, chancel and aisles in the Decorated style with ogee arches above the piscina and priests door in the south wall. Later in the century, maybe due to the desire to accommodate a chantry chapel, the church was enlarged by addition of another north aisle with windows built in the late Decorated style.
By 1334 the Lordship of the Manor had passed to one Ralph ap Eynon (Later named Baynham) and his descendants, but the manor lands were divided until the second marriage of Thomas Baynham to Alice Walwyn who became an heiress of the Greyndour family in 1485 whose land at Mitcheldean was united with his. It was during Thomas' life 1422-1500 that the church attained much of the appearance it has today. In the second half of the 15th century, a clerestory and west window were added to the nave giving it a spacious air, and later in this period the roofs of the two north aisles were altered to their present form by rebuilding the centre arcade making one roof outside but inside separate finely carved wooden ones. Also the east and west windows of the north aisle were altered and the west door of the nave added. All this rebuilding was in the perpendicular style. It is likely too that the upper tower and spire were added, and also the panel paintings above the chancel entry.
This active period also saw the making of another chantry altar erected in the far north aisle. This was for Robert Greyndour who died in the 1443 and had been the grandfather of Alice Walwyn. This altar was dedicated to St. John and St Nicholas while that of the earlier chantry was to the Holy Trinity. Neither are extant.
When the church was renovated in 1852, it was found that the piers and the arches once had coloured paint decorations, and there are still fragments of 15th century glass in the church. All these design features show that the church, at the start of the 16th century, was in the fashion of the period. Probably most of the cost of this work fell on the Baynham and the Greyndour estates. But as Thomas Baynham was at different times the sheriff of the country and co-constable of St Briavels castle, the combined resources of his and his wife's families would have been able to bear these expenses.
No other large structural changes occurred till the middle of the 19th century by which time the building was in a very poor state. By the efforts of the Reverend E. Machen funds were raised for extensive repairs and the well known Gothic Revival architect, Henry Woodyer was engaged to 'restore' the church. It was closed while work proceeded and re-opened in 1853 with a new chancel having a high pitched roof. The roofs of the north aisles were repaired in 1893.
The well kept churchyard was much smaller in the 14th century and it was only after some old cottages near the chancel were demolished and land gifted in the 1860 by the then Lord of the Manor, Maynard Colchester, that the burial ground attained its present size. Here rest many of the benefactors of the church from the past up to recent times.
From 2012 to 2014, members of the Gloucestershire Family History Society - Forest of Dean Branch, recorded and transcribed memorial inscriptions found within the churchyard (as well as inside the church). The collection of memorial inscriptions can be viewed here.
The unbuttressed tower of local stone was in the 14th century built only to the corbelling but later, probably in the 15th century, the tower and spire were completed. The 184 foot spire fell in 1733 and was then rebuilt with royal aid by Nathaniel Wilkinson of Worcester. The south aisle roof too may then have been rebuilt as it was damaged. The line of the earliest roof can be seen on the tower wall. The spire was repaired in the 1983 and again in 2019. The weather cock was again refurbished so that he now glitters golden in the morning's sunlight.
In the early 18th century the church had fivebells, (fn. 16) some probably belonging to a peal recast c. 1680 Three new bells were added by subscription in 1760 when the peal was recast at the Gloucester foundry of the Rudhall family. The tenor was recast at the same foundry in 1783 and again in 1819, another by G. Mears & Co. in 1864 at the expense of Henrietta Davies, and a third by John Taylor & Co. in 1924. A sanctus bell was recast by Thomas Rudhall in 1773. The bells were rehung in 1964 having been unringable since the beginning of the second world war. They were retuned and rehung by John Taylor and Co. Loughborough. The bells bear the following inscriptions:
There is also a small Sanctus or Ting Tang bell also known as the Shriving bell which as well as marking the moment of consecration at the Eucharist was customarily used on Shrove Tuesday to remind people to make their confession before Lent.
Up to the 18th century a sundial on the south aisle wall gave the time but was superseded by a tower clock. The clock for many generations was maintained and repaired by members of the Voyce family of Mitcheldean who made clocks on a site opposite the police station from at least 1717 to 1781. in 1974 Mrs Elieen Roberts (Nee Voyce) carried on the tradition by having the clock updated with an electric drive and the face and hands repainted in memory of her husband, Reginald Roberts (1908-1972). In 1995 the Clock was again updated with the addition of a radio controlled clock movement taking the time signal from the National Atomic time signal.
A glance above the porch door will show the now remains of a carved head possibly representing St. Michael. Inside between the original roof beams and the church door a board shows the town's charitable trusts with one by W. Lane who in 1790 endowed the primary school.
The font is of Norman design but all that is left of the original is the decoration at the foot and the lower parts of the figures. In 1882 the rest was carefully restored in line with similar fonts such as one in Hereford Cathedral. It has a slightly curved shape with twelve arcades each containing a figure of one of the apostles who each carry their identifying symbols, for example St. Peter facing east holds the key of heaven.
On the south wall of the Lady Chapel is a 14th century ogee arched Piscina once used to wash the chalice and vessels after Holy Communion. Next to this is a Credence shelf where the bread and wine were placed in preparation for the Eucharist. In the medieval period burial in front of an altar was desirable and in the 16th century the will of Thomas Brayne requested that he be buried before the painting of Our lady in the lady Chapel. At that time all graves around the church were re-used after a time, any old bones would be disinterred and placed in the Ossuary or bone room beneath the Lady Chapel. This plain room with a barrel vault roof is accessed by a spiral stair case which once also gave access to the Rood loft. The old bones in the Ossuary were reburied in 1886.
The wooden Rood loft common in the 15th century once stretched from the top of the spiral stairway to over the nave. This was later dismantled and the access at the top of the stairs blocked off. The Rood loft a narrow gallery often supported carved crucifixion scenes and were often wide enough to allow musicians to play from them on feast days.
The Altar of the lady chapel is dedicated to Our Lady and St George.
The church of St Michael's has one of the few remaining panel paintings of The last Judgement in the country and it is even rarer for this to be combined with scenes from the Passion of Christ. These are painted directly onto oak boards which formed the back ground to the rood loft instead of a stone chancel arch. From the style of the clothing of the figures the paintings were probably made in the last quarter of the 15th or early 16th century. At a later date (presumably the reformation) they were white washed over but were rediscovered and the paint removed in 1831. They were cleaned again in 1968. all but the end panels are clearly discernible.
Sudden death was common in the middle ages and the fate of one's soul at the last judgement was something that concerned the people greatly. Paintings on the subject as visual teaching aids were given great prominence . The figures seen here and their relationships conform to a set pattern in a three tiered view of judgement. At the top is Christ in a vermilion robe seated on the rainbow of Heaven and displaying the wounds of the Cross. On either side of his head are angels trumpeting for the dead to arise from their tombs for judgement. Below and to either side are figures pleading for the souls of those being judged. On our left is the praying figure of the Virgin Mary and on our right is St John, arms outstretched to Christ. The bottom tier shows the resurrection and separation. In the middle are two figures arising from the grave. The first, below Mary appears to be destined to join the rank of the blessed walking towards St Peter standing at the gate of the heavenly city with its key. The second below St John is a fearful figure is about to be chained with those sinners being hauled off to the gaping jaws of hell.
The four panels beneath the Doom painting are another visual aid in the form of eight scenes from the Passion of Christ and are reminiscent of Mystery plays of the time. The sequence starts at the bottom left hand panel showing Judas betraying Christ with a kiss accompanied by soldiers and St Peter. The scene above depicts Christ before Pilate who is seen washing his hands with water poured from a ewer. Next to this is the mocking of Christ who sits blindfolded between two tormentors. The scene below shows the further torment of the Flagellation of Christ who is tied to a miniature column similar to those used in Mystery plays. There is no painting of the crucifixion as that would have been seen in the carved figures on the Rood Loft. So the upper panel to the right of the centre shows the Deposition from the cross watched by three women, as described in Mark's Gospel. Immediately beneath this is the scene as Jesus body is laid in the tomb again watched by three women. The outer bottom right panel has the harrowing of Hell depicting Christ having descended to hell to free Adam and early Mankind. The final scene above is the Ascension, shown by the upward disappearance of Christ watched by the disciples. These panel paintings are not sophisticated in technique but the designs are bold and simple making their subjects quite clear.
In the late 15th century England was pre-eminent in Europe in the field of carved wooden roofs, and Mitcheldean has fine Cambered beam examples with carved wall posts and supports at the principle beams. Where these meet the massive ridged beams pairs of angels have been carved, each holding a shield. Mouldings divide the roof into panels and at intersections are rich floriate bosses. The nave is covered by a huge wagon vault divided into panels and having one hundred and thirty three wooden bosses mostly square and alternately floriate or foliate except for those with a religious inspiration. Near the chancel a large boss has a representation of the face of God while at the west end is a group whose centre boss shows the crowned Blessed Virgin Mary. Around this are angels and symbolic beasts of three of the four Evangelists (Gospel writers), the fourth appearing on the roof ridge towards the chancel. All these, together with the painted panels over the chancel entrance, give an example of medieval visual expression of religious teaching. There are also three stone corbels with grotesque faces on the south tower wall.
Stained glass windows help to create an atmosphere inside the church that sets it aside from the everyday world and in this respect St Michael and all Angels' is fortunate. The earliest glass is what remains from an east window mentioned by the historian and genealogist Ralph Bigland in the 18th century and earlier in the 1568 Will of the parishioner William Sargeaunt. This was a nativity window and what is left is the tracery showing angel musicians in the 15th century style.
At the 1852-53 restoration these remains were kept and repositioned in the tops of the north aisle windows. The window marked W16 on the plan has angels heads and wings and the profile head of a woman, possibly one of the donor's family.
The first stained glass after 1852 replaced the nativity window (W13) and the adjacent window (W14). These are stamped glass and constructed by J. Powell and Sons of London in 1855. They had maple leaf and fleur-de-lis motifs. Stained glass has nearly always been the gift of a donor and this is the case in Mitcheldean. Before his death in 1861, the wealthy mine owner Timothy Bennett gifted the Good Shepherd window (W8) and the organ window (W12) to the church and they have the bright colours of the Gothic Revival with panels showing parables such as the prodigal Son. The work is that of J Bell and Son of Bristol. T. Bennett was well liked by his employees and they donated £300 to fill the nave west window with glass as a memorial to him in 1862. this window is another by Bells with the theme of salvation as seen In the Salvatori Mundi figure of Christ in the centre of the tracery and also in the prayer of king Solomon at the completion of the first temple shown in the upper lights. Below this is Jesus as a babe held by Simeon at his presentation in the temple.
Mr. Bennett's daughter Jane inherited her father's wealth and donated the next window (W19) to the memory of her mother Beata in 1875. this window, by Bells, has the popular medieval theme of the Acts of Mercy showing a lady helping the poor and on her cloak in the top left panel is seen a Sunflower. This symbol and the window's muted colours show the influence of the 19th century Aesthetic Movement as too does the next window.
The window marked W18 on the plan is attributed to C. heaton of Heaton, Butler and Bayne, about 1880. it takes its theme from the words of the canticle, 'Benedicite omnia opera', where God's works praise him, and also from Christ's parable of the sower of seeds. This is the most striking window and has strong linear design.
In contrast is the window in the south wall of the Lady Chapel (W7) made by the victorian designer C.E. Kempe. In 1887 who used silver stain to create delicate facial modelling. It depicts the virgin martyrs, Catherine, Cecelia and Agnes in memory of the organist, unmarried daughter of the then Rector The Reverend Dighton, St Cecelia is the patron saint of musicians.
The east window (W10) of the chancel rebuilt by Henry Woodyer received stained glass in 1905 to commemorate The Reverend H.H. Hardy who had died in 1904. Enough funds were raised to fill the tracery and the centre light of the window to the design of J. D. Forsyth, showing the Holy Spirit as a dove above two censing angels and a centre light with the figure of Christ.
In 1965 a storm destroyed this light and the opportunity was taken to fill all the lights with new glass. The well known modern designer John Hayward was engaged and in 1970 produced the present work. This depicts the patron saint of the church - Saint Michael - thrusting Satan from Heaven while holding aloft the fiery sword to guard its gates. Unfortunately this bold design does not sit well with the older glass above. The work was gifted by Robert and Geoffrey Little in memory of their parents. Thomas and Frances. The family were well known employers in Mitcheldean since the 1900's and their gift carried on the tradition of local benefactors.
The late 15th century pulpit now to the south of the rood screen has ogee arches and tracery which originally had painted decoration. Its bracket seat bearing the arms of the Greyndours of Abenhall and Mitcheldean is now mounted on the south wall of the nave. The pulpit the to north of the rood screen was made in 1921 by Mowbrays to a design by F.E. Howard a church furnishing specialist. It commemorates the local men who died in the 1914-18 war, and carries their names on the back panel. It was paid for by local subscription and Mr Wintle of Mitcheldean Brewery. The style is in keeping with the earlier pulpit and displays angels, symbols of the passion, the crucifixion and has a delicately carved canopy.
The rood screen with its elaborately carved tracery and angels was made in 1893 by Friths to drawings by Wallers, both Gloucester firms. The figure of Christ crucified is a later addition.
Behind the high altar dedicated to St Michael is a marble reredos dedicated in 1913. Previously there was a wooden panel behind the altar with the words of the Lord's prayer, the ten commandments and the creed. The present reredos has the theme of Christ's appeal to all people shown by his outstretched arms and the words 'come to me'.
The figures in the scene represent all types and classes of society from all nations, and its life size figures have a powerful presence. It is said that the sculptor, W Storr-Barber based the figures on residents of Mitcheldean. The reredos was given in memory of Herbert Fitz-Herbert Jones, Surgeon by his widow.
There are many wall monuments ranging in date from the 15th to the 20th century. Two have significant historical interest. On the east end of the far north aisle is the family memorial of Edward Sargeaunt (1698) it records both his wife and their descendants up to 1768. the family lived at Harts Barn, half a mile to the east of the village. Where once William the Conqueror's hounds were kept. Records show the family held a sergeanty (land tenure in return for service to the lord of the manor in the feudal system) from the King in the 13th century, from which the family name was derived.
The second significant monument is the square board at the entry to the nave recording the marriages of Thomas Baynham to Margaret Hodge and latterly Alice Walwyn in the 15th century. It includes their respective family Arms. The board has brass effigies of Margaret and Alice which were once either side of one of Thomas on a tomb stone in the far north aisle. The ladies are shown wearing the costumes of the period with Margaret in a butterfly head dress and Alice a pediment style popular with the Tudor queens.
The pipe organ was installed in 1850 with a single manual, and is a Father Henry Willis instrument. Over the years it has been enlarged and 'improved'. In the 1930's a second great Open Diapason was added by the scholar, The Reverend Noel Bonavia-Hunt in the style of a Schultz diapason. There was a major rebuild in 1932 and in 1966 the pedals were given an electric action.
A modern digital organ is now used for church services after the old pipe organ became unusable.
The registers date from 1680, and the oldest church plate, a chalice and paten, date from around 1570 the reign of Queen Elizabeth the 1st.
Originally written and published in 1995 the Author was Mr William Waddell. Thanks were expressed to The Reverend Robert Sturman, The Reverend and Mrs King, Mr N Little, Mr A Brooks, Mr B Herring. Also the staff of the Council for the Care of churches, the National Monuments Record, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Gloucester Record Office and the Public Record Office.
The assistance of the University libraries of Manchester and York and the County local history Department and Branch Libraries was also acknowledged.
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Mitcheldean Church is open daily 8am until 4pm. Abenhall Church is open to visitors by arrangement with the church warden. (Contact Sheila Baker on 01594 543522).
The Church of St. Michael & All Angels
High Street, Mitcheldean, Gloucestershire, GL17 0HU. Find Us »
The Church of St. Michael
Abenhall, Gloucestershire, GL17 0SQ. Find Us »
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